Inez Milholland Boissevain, 1886-1916

  • Inez-Milholland-Boissevain-WWP

Woman Category: Activism & Feminism, Law, and Politics & LeadersWoman Tags: 19th Amendment Centennial Anniversary, Lawyer, NYC Women, and Suffragist

  • HerStory

    Suffragist, social reformer, and labor lawyer.

    Milholland was born in Brooklyn, NYC, to a wealthy and liberal family. Her father was a journalist and a businessman, and they had homes in London and NYC. Her parents advocated for civil rights, world peace, and women’s rights. After graduating high school in England, she returned to the US and enrolled in Vassar College. While on vacation in London, she met the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and learned about the suffrage movement in London. Coming back to the college, she started organizing two-thirds of the students into a suffrage club and taught them the foundations of socialism and women’s rights.
    Following her graduation, she began working as a suffrage orator in NYC, while applying to several law schools, who rejected her because of her gender. Finally, she admitted to the New York University School of Law. While studying for her degree, she was active in several organizations – the women’s rights movement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Child Labor Committee, the Equality League of Self Supporting Women and the National Woman’s Party, where she became a leading speaker. She made her most notable appearance On March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, when she led thousands of women through the streets of Washington, DC, riding a white horse and wearing a crown and white cape, representing the “New Woman” of the 20th century.
    At 26, after earning her LL.B. degree and passing the bar, she began to work as a labor and children’s rights attorney. The following year, while on her way to London, she met Eugen Jan Boissevain, a Dutchman coffee importer. She proposed to him on the ship, and they got married as soon they arrived to shore, knowing each other nearly a month. They both believed in free love and saw their relationship as a fusion of minds, bodies, and souls. When WW1 erupt, she devoted her efforts to campaigning for pacifism. She traveled to Italy and became a war correspondent, writing anti-war articles that eventually led to her banishment (she believed that her outset was because she was a woman and not because of her pacifist views). When returning to the US, her health declined, and she began to suffer from pernicious anemia. In 1916, she went on a tour, advocating the National Woman’s Party on the west coast. On November 22nd, 1916, in the middle of a speech, she collapsed and was rushed to the hospital where she died 3 days later, at 30 years old.

    “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

    “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • In college, she was the president of the campus Intercollegiate Socialist Society, the captain of the hockey team, and a member of the track team, the debating team, the German Club, and the Current Topics Club.
    • Her nickname was Nan.
    • She was suspended from college for organizing women’s rights meetings.
    • She broke her college’s shot-put record in her sophomore year.
    • She was arrested for picketing at the female shirtwaist, and laundry workers strike in 1909. She used her connections to pay bail for other strikers.
    • As a lawyer, she visited Sing Sing prison to document its horrible conditions.
    • She didn’t like to be recognized as “the most beautiful suffragette,” wanting people to know her for her brains and not for her looks.
    • She traveled on Henry Ford’s Peace Ship expedition, trying to end WW1.
    • The Inez Milholland Professorship of Civil Liberties at New York University School of Law was named in her honor.
    • In the movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels’ (2004), Julia Ormond played Milholland’s character.
    • Her husband remarried the famous poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. She read her sonnet “To Inez Milholland” while attending a memorial for Milholland at the Portrait Monument to Suffrage Pioneers at the US Capitol in 1923.
      “Upon this marble bust that is not I
      Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
      But in the forum of my silenced cry
      Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
      I, that was proud and valiant, am no more; —
      Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
      Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
      The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
      Only my standard on a taken hill
      Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
      And make immortal my adventurous will.
      Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
      Take up the song; forget the epitaph.”
      The poem urged listeners to carry on the spirit of Milholland’s work for justice and equality, while the statue of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony at the Capitol celebrated the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
    • Milholland was also the subject of the poem “Repetitions” by Carl Sandburg.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Her biography

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Honoring Inez Milholland

    A mountain in Lewis, N.Y., was renamed for suffragist Inez Milholland in December 2019. This video by Molly Ormsbee explores her efforts and why she was recently honored.

  • Milholland in 1913, leading the Woman Suffrage Procession parade in Washington, DC. Photo credit - LOC

  • Citations and Additional References:
    National Park Service website.
    Wikipedia page.